Saturday, March 08, 2008

Safety Plan

My father called and gave me the dates my sister is flying in, but he didn't have the times. So I called her and my father had the dates wrong. She told me that she had told him several times that she could not fly on the days he gave me. She just can't miss that many work days, but he doesn't remember. Our father tends to be forgetful, but it sets of alarm bells for her in ways it doesn't for me.

She told me that in the years after I stopped visiting Dad and she continued to spend the night once a week with him, she spent hours waiting him after school or in his vehicle outside bars. I'm glad she told me. Not just because I am glad that she shared but because it clarified memories I had from the years in which I was visiting him with her. Sis remembers being forgotten and being hungry, I remember insisting that he feed us. I remember demanding that we stop at a grocery store to buy our food for lunches the next day and go to a restaurant before we went to his house. I don't have any memories of actually going hungry. I wonder if I just figured out the need to ensure we were fed before he got home because there was never food in his house, or if we did actually go hungry on some visit I no longer remember. Those of you who have parents with substance abuse issues will also understand the necessity of getting food before you get home.

Anyway, Roland and I talked. I told him that if Sis had any credit cards I might not take responsibility for her like this, but she doesn't. (This is part of the fall-out from her broken ankle and lack of insurance). So she has no way to take care of herself if Dad falls through. So Roland agreed that we would re-structure our trip so that we all have a plan in which we all feel safe. I am sending the following letter to my father:

Dear Dad,

I just talked to Sis and we worked out some of the details. Hope you don’t mind me being travel agent person.

She lands on [date/time]. We decided that it would be fun to meet her there, and having our mini van to move that many people is probably a good idea too. I looked for a hotel near the airport and the closest is Local Inn. Do you want to give me your credit card and I will make a reservation for all of us?

We would be thrilled to see you at the airport, or you can meet us in the morning at the Inn. Or if there is anything you need to do at the cottages we can just meet you there the next day. Just let me know.

Sis's flight leaving is [date/time]. That means they have to be there very early. Again, send me your credit card number, and I will go ahead and make reservations at the Inn for the night before for them. Since it is so early, I am sure Sis won’t mind if you just give her money for a taxi to the airport in the morning.

We can also help transport her to the Inn the day before the flight, but I think I will make reservations for us somewhere between there and Our Small Town so that we can make progress getting home.

I don’t want to forget to thank you for building the cottages and paying for us all to have a vacation together.

Thank you!

Roland will call him for me. Roland is an angel about calling my Dad since I am so phobic about this. I told him that what I need for him to do is get the credit card information from my Dad so that I can make all the hotel reservations we need. I don't care if he tells Dad that I am making reservations for Sis too. Roland can tell him or not depending upon his judgment of how sober and likely to remember Dad is.

There's something that some of you will understand and will seem strange to the others. When I told Sis I had written the letter and read it to her she said, "that sounds great." I noticed that neither of us questioned the necessity of sending him the letter. He needs to have it on a piece of paper. We need to know that he has it. Even so, he will probably call me on my cell phone anxious when Sis does not appear at the airport on the day he asked her to come in.

So we all feel safe. Sis says if Dad is drunk the entire week she can handle that just fine. She's good at ignoring him drunk. She just needs to know that she has a place to sleep and food to eat.

We both have bad memories of life with father, but our worse memories we do not share. We both remember the five years after the divorce in which my father played with us and things felt sur-real to me. I know that I took charge then, as I am doing now, "managing" my father to insure that we were taken care of, and doing it in a way that was designed not to anger him (usually but did not always work). She does not share my memories of "before the divorce." She does not remember being hit, though she was. She does not have memories of being "on guard." Perhaps because I was or did she just forget like she did the physical violence? On the other hand, she has memories from her teen years, after I was no longer visiting my father, of being forgotten and hungry.

Which is why, I suppose we need different safety plans. My sister's memories of my father drunk are memories of him passed out. My worst memories are of violence. I need to know that I can drive myself and my child away, even though my rational mind tells me that it is unlikely that he will get mean or violent. Sis doesn't need to know she can physically escape him, just that there will be food and a place to sleep.

There is part of me that thinks that our safety plan goes beyond what we need, that my father really wants this vacation to be idyllic and he will be drinking just enough to keep the DT's at bay. He wants to be appear to be the loving, adored patriarch and he will do his best to play the part.

But Sis and I still need to have a plan.

And there is still the part of me that wonders why I am increasingly determined to go. I think it is because if he is sober, or close to it, then this could be a good vacation. I will really enjoy getting to spend five days with my sister. If he is NOT sober, then it is a different sort of opportunity. It is like going to a spider exhibit when you are afraid of spiders. Not because you think it will be fun, but because you need to stand there and face the thing that scares you and say "I'm not afraid of you anymore. You can't hurt me."

Update: we've made some revisions to the plan. First we have decided to ask Dad to just send us the money so we can pay for everything. Based upon past experience he is likely to prefer this, and it means no worrying about cards being rejected. There are a couple of routes to take to get from here to there. The one that allows us to pick up Sis is perhaps one hour longer, but is almost entirely freeway driving. The more we think about it the more we think that will be less stressful and reliable than the country highway route. We talking a total predicted 13.5 hours instead of 12.5.

Someone asked about getting Dad to rent Sis a car, which would work if she had credit cards. Since she doesn't, she would have to depend upon Dad or us showing up, signing, and agreeing to pay for any damage, etc. Now that we have decided to take the "we're going right by there anyway" route, it doesn't seem to be that big of a deal.


  1. Well said. You write so well. Thanks for sharing.


  2. These posts are very interesting to read; I am impressed by the way you are straightforwardly confronting your demons.

  3. Good for you! I think you have done an incredible job with laying down boundries, and making sure everyone feels safe. And with no drama! That is the most amazing part of all. Here dad, here is how it is going to go down. Done.
    Yay for Roland feeling better. Good thing you gave him a blog name, you have needed it lately!


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